The Pyramid Technique

The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Effective Communication: What It Is And How To Do It

Many people if you asked them would consider that they communicate well…

…in answering that question, the majority of people are most likely considering how good their spoken and written skills are, how good their grammar and vocabulary are.

All important points – but are they the most essential skills for effective communication?

It is also important, if not, most important to consider the appropriateness of the message to a given audience, both in terms of timing, structure and content and also to understand not only the message that was sent out there, but to confirm what message has been received.

We Each Have Our Own ‘Filtered’ View Of The World

In the study of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) we learn that every individual sees the world through a series of filters, therefore creating their own ‘map’ of the world. The reason for this is that every second we are bombarded with millions upon millions of pieces of information and in order to process and make sense of that information we need to ‘delete’ everything that is not relevant.

These filters evolve through our lives based on our experience and other factors and everyone’s filters and therefore ‘map’ of the world is different. This means that what you see from a given situation or scenario may not be what the person standing next to you sees.

Not everyone sees the world the same way you do.

This also means that what you communicate or think you have communicated is very often received as a different message to the one you intended, often even when you feel you have been really clear.

The Good News…

The good news is that we can use this understanding to improve our own communication.

There are many ways to communicate effectively despite these differences.

In fact, a lot of people who are naturally good communicators ‘get’ the fact that we all see the world differently, that we all have differing priorities and time available and tailor their messages appropriately.

Very good communicators will also find an easy way to re-confirm that their message has in fact been understood in the way they intended.

So effective communication is about tailoring the message to the audience, having appropriate timing (i.e. a great message 3 days late is not a great message) and ensuring that the audience have received the right message.

Effective Communication is about tailoring the message to the audience and ensuring that the audience have received the right message.

The Pyramid Technique

One useful technique to significantly raise the chances of making your communications effective is the pyramid technique. This is basically the idea of splitting your communications to have a concise headline or key message with supporting detail underneath:

  • Begin all communications with a key message
  • The key message
    • What do you want the recipient to understand or do from this communication?
    • Make sure the key message is as concise and specific as it can be. This is the attention grabber and most important part of the communication
  • The message is then qualified with the rest of the communication (supporting message)
  • Review before sending
    • Check that the key message is clear, concise and specific
    • Review the supporting communication to streamline further
    • This doesn’t have to be to the extent of abbreviations and risk bad grammar, just remove redundancy and make sentences concise – you’d be surprised how much you can ‘cut down’ communications
    • With practice it will get easier and soon come naturally

Pyramid Technique Example:


We need to cut $2M from our overall costs by the end of June this year.

This is to inform all staff that we need to cut $2M from our bottom line costs by the end of Q2 this year, due to increases thrown up by the recent Supply Chain analysis performed in the widget manufacturing department.

Bill Smith, who lead this analysis has set this challenge as his figures show if we don’t hit that target we will not be profitable for the first half of the year.

Further analysis and validation of these figures has also uncovered…

In the above example, the key message is highlighted in bold, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily, as long as the key message is clear and concise and then the rest of the communication goes on to expand on that key message.

Again, the ultimate test of whether communication is effective is how that communication is received.

Check with your audience (ask them) how effective your communication is.

Did the message they received match what you were trying to convey?

Does the format and frequency work well for them?

One Final Point – Balance

Finally you need to find the right balance between managing your own workload when it comes to communication and ensuring the communication reaches the audience (meaning not only that it got there, but that it was read/heard and understood as intended).

To find the right balance you will need to consider factors such as:

  • What is the appropriate amount of time to spend ‘crafting’ this communication (e.g. if it is one communication which will be sent to a very wide audience then it is probably worth spending some time up front making sure the message is very clear and maybe even testing it out on a smaller trusted audience first.)?
  • How much time do you have to work on this communication?
  • Is the communication time critical or is there a point after which the communication starts to lose it’s value?
  • How should the communication be structured? Does it make sense to split the communication to get a quicker early communication out first and follow up with more detail later?

Using the pyramid technique described above should help to ensure that communications are well structured in the first place and less ‘tailoring’ is needed.

Try it and let us know if it helped…


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